Tillerson from Kuwait: Continued Coalition Support Needed to Achieve Enduring ISIS Defeat

Tillerson from Kuwait: Continued Coalition Support Needed to Achieve Enduring ISIS Defeat

Tuesday, 13 February, 2018 - 10:30
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday before the international coalition against ISIS that the military operations on the ground have not spelled the end of the terrorist organization.

He stated: "Without continued attention and support from coalition members, we risk the return of extremist groups like ISIS in liberated areas of Iraq and Syria and their spread to new locations."

He made his remarks at a coalition gathering in Kuwait.

"The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS," Tillerson said.

"ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe," he said.

The Trump administration is increasingly concerned that the 74-strong coalition it cobbled together to destroy ISIS is losing sight of the prime objective.

Tillerson pressed partners to refocus their efforts, overcome rivalries and concentrate on the task at hand: the eradication from Iraq and Syria of the extremist group.

Distractions are adding up, such as Turkey's fighting with US-backed Kurds in Syria and renewed spillover from Syria's civil war. Meanwhile, hostilities between non-coalition actors — Iran, its proxies in Syria, and Israel — risk creating a new conflict in an already crowded battle space.

Tillerson announced that the United States would contribute an additional $200 million "to further support critical stabilization and early recovery initiatives in liberated areas of Syria," bringing Washington's total contribution to humanitarian efforts to nearly $7.9 billion since the conflict in Syria began in 2011.

It was not immediately clear how that money would be distributed. Tillerson reaffirmed that the US "would maintain a conditions-based and ISIS-focused military presence in Syria" that would in part continue to train local security forces.

US officials said the thrust of Tillerson's message was that "eyes have to be on the prize" and anything that hinders ISIS' defeat will impair broader objectives such as a political transition in Syria that ultimately leads to an end of the war and blunts Iranian behavior throughout the region.

Rising tensions between the US and NATO ally Turkey over Turkish military operations against the Syrian Kurds are a primary concern and Tillerson will end his five-nation swing through the region in Ankara on Friday after stops in Jordan and Lebanon.

Turkey's foreign minister said Monday that Tillerson's visit, which follows a similar trip by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, comes at a make or break time for relations.

"Our relations are at a very critical stage," Melvut Cavusoglu said. "Either we will improve ties or these ties will totally break down."

Ankara is riled over Washington's support for the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG — the top US ally in the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers the YPG a "terrorist" group linked to Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey's own borders.

At the meeting in Kuwait, Tillerson made a point of noting concerns about the situation and urged "all parties to remain focused on defeating ISIS, deescalating and resolving the Syrian conflict and protecting innocent civilians."

In addition to keeping the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria on the front burner, Tuesday's meetings in Kuwait will also focus on preventing the spread into Europe and elsewhere of retreating ISIS terrorists.

Tillerson said the US supports a new blueprint for boosting intelligence and information sharing and law enforcement cooperation to halt the flow of those fighters.

"In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is attempting to morph into an insurgency. In places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, West Africa and others it is trying to carve out and secure safe havens," Tillerson said. "We have seen in Iraq and Syria the consequences of an ISIS territorial presence. History must not be allowed to repeat itself elsewhere."

Turning to Iraq, Tillerson urged members of the coalition to help rebuild the country or risk the reversal of the gains made against ISIS there.

Donors and investors have gathered in Kuwait this week to discuss efforts to rebuild Iraq’s economy and infrastructure as it emerges from a devastating three-year conflict with the terrorists, who seized almost a third of the country.

Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December, having taken back all the territory captured by the group in 2014 and 2015. The group has also been largely defeated in neighboring Syria.

The US appreciates the “generous contributions” of coalition members over the past year, but more is needed, Tillerson told the Kuwait meeting.

“If communities in Iraq and Syria cannot return to normal life, we risk the return of conditions that allowed ISIS to take and control vast territory,” he said.

“We must continue to clear unexploded remnants of war left behind by ISIS, enable hospitals to reopen, restore water and electricity services, and get boys and girls back in school.”

The US is not expected to make a direct government contribution at the conference, however.

“It’s not in the question of a pledging thing where we go out with requests, it’s underscoring – there is a need for support. It’s investment, it’s private company engagement, it’s DFI,” a senior state department official traveling with Tillerson told reporters on Monday.

The term DFI generally refers to development finance institutions such as multilateral development banks.

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